In 2016 we commemorate, rightfully, those who took part in the Irish 1916 Easter Rising. From a Thurles commemorative perspective however, perhaps the name Richard James Mulcahy was somewhat sidelined, due to the 1916 Easter Rising being mostly confined to Dublin city.
This in mind, let us not forget that one action, if not the most successful of all 1916 actions undertaken by Irish Volunteers, took place in Ashbourne, County Meath. It was here on April 28th 1916, under the leadership of Thomas Ashe (A national school teacher from Lusk, who would later die on hunger strike), and his second-in-command, Richard James Mulcahy (A post office engineer from Thurles), together with 45 Fingal Volunteers, attacked a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks.
History credits Richard Mulcahy with the defeat of the RIC at Ashbourne, through his engagement in a flanking movement made on an opposing police column; latter who were rushed to reinforce their already surrendered comrades.
Arrested after the rising, Mulcahy was later interned at Knutsford and at the Frongoch internment camps in Wales, until his release on in 1917.
Who was Richard James Mulcahy?
Richard (Dick) James Mulcahy [Irish: Risteárd Séamus Ó Maolchatha (1886 -1971)] was originally born in Manor Street, Co. Waterford on May 10th, 1886. He began his educated, first at Mount Sion Christian Brothers School, Waterford and later at Thurles C.B.S, when his father and family transferred to reside in Thurles, County Tipperary. In 1902 he joined the post office Engineering Department, working first in Thurles and later in Bantry, Co Cork, Dublin and Wexford. Shortly after his arrival in Dublin, Mulcahy joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1907 and later in 1913, joined the Irish Volunteers.
War of Independence and Civil War
Following his arrest after the 1916 Rising, he was later released in 1917, from the former British WWI German prisoner-of-war camp at Frongoch (Later referred to as “Ollscoil na Réabhlóide”, or the “University of Revolution”), situated in Merionethshire, Wales.
Back in Ireland, he immediately rejoined the Republican Movement and in March 1918, he was appointed commandant of the Dublin Brigade and Chief of Staff of the newly constituted General Headquarters staff of the Irish Volunteers.
Elected to the First Dáil in the 1918 General Election for Dublin / Clontarf, he was appointed Minister for Defence in the new (alternative) government and later to the post of Assistant Minister for Defence. In March 1919 he became IRA chief of staff, a position he held until January 1922. It was he, who together with Michael Collins, was instrumental in developing IRA military strategy against the British, during the War of Independence.
In 1920 he married Cumann na mBan Executive Mary Josephine (Min) Ryan. Mary was the former fiancée of Leitrim raised Seán Mac Diarmada, latter a signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, who, aged thirty-three was executed on May 12th on the orders of British Officer Captain Lee Wilson* for his part in the 1916 Rising.
[*Note: both the plain-clothes detective, a “G” man named Daniel Hoey, who had identified Mac Diarmada and R.I.C Captain Lee Wilson were both later assassinated (Wilson in Gorey, Co. Wexford in 1920, and Hoey at a milk bar in Tara Street, Dublin in 1919) on the orders of General Michael Collins.]
A supporter of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, Mulcahy was appointed Commander of the military forces of the Provisional Government during the subsequent Civil War and served as Minister for Defence from 1922-24 and Commander of the Provisional Government’s military forces after the death of Michael Collins, in 1922.
Possibly Mulcahy’s most controversial action when in power was the issuing of the ‘Public Safety Bill’ in October 1922. Same Bill allowed for the execution, imprisonment or penal servitude for all known anti-treaty IRA members caught bearing weapons. By the end of the first year of implementation, 81 men had been executed and over 12,000 men and women imprisoned by the Provisional Government under his direction For this action very few anti-treaty republicans ever forgave him.
Serving as Defence Minister in the Free State government from January 1924 until March 1924, he resigned in protest because of the sacking of the Army Council, following criticism by the Executive Council over the handling of the so-called Army Mutiny.
After the Civil War, General Mulcahy returned to politics, becoming a member of Cumann na nGaedheal (English – ‘Party of the Gaels’), the party which formed the first government of the Irish Free State. Previously the party had been the Pro-Treaty Sinn Féin grouping during the Civil War, but with same then concluded, they renamed themselves and set to work to rebuild a new State, following Ireland’s recent two bloody conflicts. In 1933 it merged together with further smaller groupings to form the political party today we know as Fine Gael, with Mulcahy eventually becoming Fine Gael Party Leader.
Richard Mulcahy was elected as TD for Dublin North West in the 1921 and 1922 general elections. In the 1923 elections he moved to the Dublin North East constituency, and continued to be re-elected in the four ensuing elections of July 1927, September 1927, February 1932 and January 1933. He was defeated in the July 1937 general election, but secured election to Seanad Éireann (Upper House of the Oireachtas) on the Administrative Panel. The 2nd Seanad sat for less than two months, and he was elected to the 10th Dáil for Dublin North East in the June 1938 election. Defeated again in the election of June 1943, he again secured election to the 4th Seanad, on the Labour Panel.
After the resignation of W. T. Cosgrave in 1944, Mulcahy became leader of Fine Gael, while still a member of the Seanad. He was returned again to the 12th Dáil as TD for Tipperary in the May 1944 general election.
After the February 1948 general election, Fianna Fáil finished six seats short of a majority. Fianna Fáil were 37 seats ahead of Fine Gael. Mulcahy quickly realised that if Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the National Labour Party, Clann na Poblachta (English: People of the Republic) and Clann na Talmhan (English: People of the land, formally the National Agricultural Party) banded together, they would have only one seat fewer than Fianna Fáil. If they could get support from seven independents, they would be able to form a government. Unlike our March 2016 difficulties in appointing a government; Mulcahy now played a leading role in persuading the other parties to put aside their differences and to join forces to relegate Eamon de Valera to the opposition benches.
Mulcahy could have become Taoiseach in this new government, however he was found not acceptable to Clann na Poblachta. (Latter founded by former Irish Republican Army Chief of Staff Seán MacBride in Barry’s Hotel Dublin, in 1946. In October 1947, Clann na Poblachta won two by-elections, one of which was in Tipperary). While Irish Labour Party distinguished politician and moderniser William Norton* may have been influenced by Seán MacBride, it was the former who then suggested that another person should take on the role as Taoiseach. Aware of this opposition and with no overt concerns ever about personal power or acquisition, Mulcahy agreed to step aside, encouraging his party colleague Attorney General John A. Costello to take on the post of Taoiseach, while he himself would remained nominal leader of the Fine Gael party.
[* The late Mrs Eileen McCarthy, (Wife of the late Mr John McCarthy, both renowned Irish hoteliers, who purchased Hayes Hotel, in Liberty Square, Thurles, in early 1977), was the daughter of the same Labour leader William Norton. One wonders, if during her time in Thurles, she was aware that a few doors up, Thurles Post Office was once the sojourn of Richard Mulcahy.]
Mulcahy served in several ministerial positions throughout the rest of his career, including Minister for Local Government and Public Health, and Minister for Education from 1948 until 1951. He remained as leader of the Fine Gael Party until his retirement in 1960, having informed his Tipperary constituents that he did not intend to contest the next election.
General Richard Mulcahy died in Dublin on December 16th 1971, at the age of 85 from natural causes, leaving behind a son also named Risteárd Mulcahy, (An internationally renowned Cardiologist in Vincents Hospital, Dublin); a second son Seán (A structural engineer and visual artist); and a daughter Neilli (1925–2012), (Latter then one of Ireland’s leading fashion designers and who designed the 1962 uniforms then worn by Aer Lingus staff).